Dozens of ornaments adorn a Christmas tree at The Ohio State University Medical Center’s Ross Heart Hospital to provide hope for those using mechanical heart pumps and waiting on heart transplants. In its second year at the hospital, the tree is a tribute to Tom Pandelos who died before he could have a heart transplant.
Pandelos was a fun-loving man who battled heart disease for years. The Cambridge, Ohio resident worked as a boat mechanic and loved to be outdoors – activities that were compromised by his failing heart.
“Tom had heart valves replaced in 1992 and wasn’t able to return to work,” said Connie Sivard, Pandelos’ girlfriend of more than a decade. “By 2005 we were told his heart was failing and he would need a transplant.”
Over the next few years, Pandelos’ condition deteriorated. He struggled to breathe and walking was a chore. In 2007, Pandelos required oxygen to keep him going. Despite his challenges, he fought to stay alive. “He wasn’t a quitter. He never gave up,” said Sivard. “I don’t know how he did it.”
In the spring of 2008 doctors began to prepare Pandelos for a heart transplant. By October he had to be admitted to The Ohio State University Medical Center while he waited. He was placed on a mechanical heart pump called a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to keep him healthy enough for a transplant.
Sadly, Pandelos died on June 28, 2009.
That first Christmas after losing her partner, Sivard set up the Christmas tree on the floor where Pandelos was a patient. She decorates the tree to remember her boyfriend and give back for the excellent care he received as a patient at The Ohio State University Medical Center.
By sharing Pandelos’ story, Sivard hopes to inspire other people to register as organ and tissue donors. “You don’t realize how important organ donation is until it touches your life,” she said. “We need people to register as donors to give others a chance to live on.”
On Dec. 2, 2010, the lobby at the Ross Heart Hospital was spilling over with people gathered to decorate the tree in honor of Pandelos. “It’s overwhelming,” said Sivard. “I’m proud. Tommy is proud.”
The decorating event included a bake sale that raised $1,700 for Unverfeth House, a temporary residence for families of patients at The Ohio State University Medical Center.